Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Young Married Woman's Thoughts on Vocational Discernment

It is Autumn again. This time of year always reminds me of the semester I spent in Austria. The campus is in a small little town in the smaller mountains of Austria. It was a beautiful fall with great friends and a retreat from the real world as we knew it. Though I suppose all of college is like that, especially at Franciscan University of Steubenville.


That fall semester in Austria was crucial to my relationship with M. I have been thinking about what it was like that semester not knowing what was going to happen with him. We had met the year before within the first weeks of college, and for me there was a pretty early attraction. There was also the complication of him planning on being a priest. The idea of marriage for him had never really entered his mind, and everyone expected him to be a priest. People still asked his mother a couple of years after our marriage if he was a priest yet, having not heard the other developments of marriage and children in his life.

By the Spring semester of our freshmen year, our mutual attraction was pretty clear. We were in the same group of friends which spent a lot of time together, eating meals, having prayer meetings, watching movies, and even doing homework. When things finally got to the point of needing to be discussed, it was all clear to everyone that there was something going on between us. The only catch was that he was in the pre-theologate program, which was for men discerning the priesthood. Coincidentally things came to a head on the Feast of St. Valentine. We discussed our mutual attraction and decided to put some space between us in our relationship, which meant that within our group of friends we tried to not talk to each other and pray about our friendship. He was the one who had to decide the most. I was not dating other men and was feeling ready to have a discerning relationship with M as long as he was ready himself. He, on the other hand, would have to make the major decision of leaving his priestly formation program to discern if we were meant to be together. He ended up leaving the program a week later and then we started dating the next day, both at the young age of 18.

Looking back I can see how we rushed into the relationship, but it seemed the right thing to do at the time. When the summer break came, however, M was not so sure anymore if our relationship was the right thing for him. He felt the need to really make a decision about his call to the priesthood, or at least be at peace with not pursuing the priesthood so that we could pursue a possible future together. When he broke up with me that summer, I decided to pray again about being a religious sister.

I had thought about it on and off for all of high school and throughout my first year of college until I began dating M. Being the bride of Christ is an attractive vocation for a young woman seeking to live a holy life, but it never seemed quite right for me. Further, there was not one order in particular that I wanted to look into, which is essential for becoming a sister. There were some really great sisters that I know in high school, and it was to one of them that I talked about the vocation to religious life. I remember the conversation I had with her, while my heart was aching for M, about what being a sister entailed. As we spoke I realized in my heart that I could not let go of hope that M would decide to date me again. It was not some great revelation from God that I should not be a sister, it was the person of M, whom I cared for and felt drawn to that made me realize that I could not pursue the vocation of religious life.


Then we both went to Austria. We had three day weekends for traveling, and being in the same group of friends, we often were in the same traveling group. The campus was so small and the classes so limited that we had most of our classes together. M and I could not avoid each other very easily, and honestly we did not want to. He spent most of the semester trying to decide if he should date me again or not. When you expect to become a priest and everyone else you know has been expecting it for years, it is hard to decide otherwise. He prayed a lot; I prayed a lot. I spent the whole semester trying to give him the space he needed in such tight quarters as that small Austrian campus. His parents came to visit during that semester and he opened up to them about his discernment. He now describes his discernment that semester as realizing that vocation is more specific than one call or another, but it is to a specific person or in the case of religious life to a particular diocese or order. He could not know that he was called to be married until the person he was to marry was before him, discerning with him.


In the fall semester in Austria there was a Thanksgiving "Ball" where everyone dressed up in traditional Austrian clothes and learned the traditional dances. M asked me to go with him, and for the first time it felt like we had chosen something right for our relationship. He had come to the point of being ready to pursue our relationship further. He felt a freedom he had not felt before to discern our future together, and he realized deep down inside that if we did date again that we were going to get married. The ball was a lot of fun, though nothing became official that evening. We were still "just friends." Two days later he asked me to take a walk with him after noon Mass and on that walk he asked me to date him again.


A year later we decided to get married, and 18 months after our engagement began we were married 10 days before my 22nd birthday.

I know that this story may not seem relevant to those discerning vocation who are older and not in college anymore, but I think what M and I discovered about our own vocations can be helpful for those thinking about their own. Whatever God has in store for you, He will be specific about it eventually. We are not called to broad sweeping ideas or vocations, we are called to do specific things. We are called to relationships with specific people, to specific groups of people, in specific places. And that is what we should discern when we discern our vocation.

3 comments:

  1. beautiful story! thanks for sharing and I hope all is going well with your pregnancy

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  2. On the one hand, these are such happy reflections, leading back to memories that we shared, that were largely happy in themselves, and that lead to so great a sacrament. On the other hand, for me, there's a certain sadness associated with the times and the story. I remember every moment of Austria so vividly, names excluded (I can't remember the names I know best). But I also remember how wrong I was about you and about M--perhaps because of arrogance. I wish I could revisit those times when we shared lives in common and reapproach them with the greater humility and maturity that I've learned over the years. Ah! to what foolishness man stoops--especially in youth! If I could only share Europe now! But I would settle for just seeing the M. Lady Philophers more often.

    As to discernment, I have heard few comments on it more wise than that which your own M. said to me, and which you yourself referenced, that discernment is of an individual, a woman, an order, a diocese, and that it will not always or often happen that the big question is answered in abstraction. Would a man have to revisit "the big question" if he had lost his bride before the wedding? Is that so bad? Discernment is so human. I am hardly an authority on it, except insofar as I too am human, and a refective one at that. But discernment can hardly be a matter of prophecies and locutions, or of signs of miracles, or a spirtuals feelings of supernatural assurances. It must larrely be something more proportioned to our nature, our passions, our habits, our loves, our choices: submitted to prayer, guided by gentle inspiration. Discernment doesn't really seem like anything to worry about. It seems pretty organic. God set up it up to fit with our nature. It just works.

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